USF Experts Available for Upcoming Hurricane Season

TAMPA, Fla. (May 29, 2008) – Forecasters admit the unpredictability of the number of and intensity of storms this coming hurricane season, but only time will tell. Meanwhile, University of South Florida researchers and professors are available to address a variety of related issues as the season unfolds. Many of USF’s hurricane experts have gathered unique insights into hurricane preparation, evacuation and storm surge. Researchers have also explored the socioeconomic and psychological dimensions of hurricanes, including the impact of storms on Florida’s elderly population.

Hurricanes, Wind and Storm Surge

Distinguished University Professor Robert Weisberg, (College of Marine Science), studies ocean circulation and ocean-atmosphere interaction in the tropics, on continental shelves and in estuaries. Predicting hurricane storm surge is one of his areas of expertise. He directs a coastal ocean observing and modeling system for the west Florida continental shelf. He is also a member of the National Research Council Committee on the New Orleans Regional Hurricane Protection System, and he is familiar with the destruction that occurred along the Mississippi coast. His simulations (with USF colleague Lianyuan Zheng) of the Hurricane Charley storm surge and storm surge scenarios for the greater Tampa Bay region may be found at Along with hurricane storm surge, Weisberg can comment on tropical ocean currents, sea surface temperature, and the relationship between these factors and climate. He can be reached at (727) 553-1568.

Jyotika Virmani (College of Marine Science) studies ocean-atmosphere interactions and ocean circulation in the tropics and on continental shelves. She researches ocean temperatures; and hurricane storm tracks, frequency, and intensity, and their possible connection to climate change. Virmani, executive director for Florida's Coastal Ocean Observing System Consortium at the Florida Institute of Oceanography, can comment on hurricane activity. Virmani can be reached at her office at (727) 553- 1627 or at on her cell phone at (727) 512-3484.


Lianyuan Zheng (College of Marine Science) has research interests focused on numerical simulations of circulation and water quality over continental shelf, coastal ocean, and estuary. Zheng applies the high-resolution Finite Volume Coastal Ocean Model (FVCOM) to simulate storm surge in Tampa Bay and Charlotte Harbor, and can be reached at (727) 553-1639 or by cell at (727) 667-6753.

Socioeconomic Impact of Disasters

Graham A. Tobin (geography, College of Arts and Sciences) studies the social, economic and political aspects of natural disasters and has recently completed work on the hurricane hazard. The author of Natural Hazards, Tobin has examined floods in California, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Idaho, and volcanoes in Ecuador and Mexico. He can also talk about risk areas and vulnerabilities to Hillsborough County. He can be reached at (813) 974-493.

Hurricanes and Kids

Judith Becker Bryant (psychology, College of Arts and Sciences) can comment on how to prepare children for traumatic events, such as hurricanes, and the impact that such events have on children. She is a national expert on developmental psychology, with a specific emphasis on language and social development in young children. She can be reached at her office at (813) 974-0475 or at her home at (813) 977-7771.


Jennifer Baggerly (counselor education, College of Education) is an expert on hurricane social/humanitarian interventions, as related to children. Baggerly is a licensed mental health counselor supervisor, a registered play therapist supervisor and a field traumatologist who provided disaster response after the 2004 Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina. She is experienced with the phenomenon of compassion fatigue resiliency. (She recently looked into the impact of natural disasters on students’ statewide assessment scores. She analyzed Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) scores of 55,881 students in grades 4 through 10 to determine if there were significant decreases after the 2004 hurricanes. Results reveal that there was statistical but no practical significance between the FCAT scores of students in high and low hurricane impacted schools. Implications for school counselors are available.) She can be reached at her office at (813) 974-6714.

Evacuations and Traffic

Edward Mierzejewski (director, Center for Urban Transportation Research) and Pei-Sung Lin (Program Director, ITS, Traffic Operations and Safety, CUTR) have studied traffic tie-ups and other transportation snafus associated with hurricane evacuations and can make suggestions for making evacuations smoother, especially in high traffic areas where roads are under construction. Mierzjewski can be reached at (813) 974-9797, by cell at (813) 541-1625, or at home at (813) 971-2985. Pei-Sung Lin can be reached at (813) 974-4910, by cell at (941) 545-6104 (cell) or by home at (941) 755-4477 (Home).

Community Safety and Worker Fatigue

Robert Nesbit (director, USF OSHA Training Institute Education Center) can comment on hurricane-related safety issues and health issues, and worker fatigue. The Center, based at the College of Public Health, offers training in the hazards associated with cleaning up debris; temporary roof repairs; dealing with downed power lines, fallen trees and portable power generators; safe use of chainsaws; and heat stress. He also can speak to the issue of adequate training for public and private public sector employees responsible for restoring utilities and removing debris left by storms. Nesbit can be reached at his office at (813) 974-6879 or by cell phone at (407) 709-2267.*

Hurricanes and the Elderly

Amanda Smith (USF Suncoast Alzheimer’s and Gerontology Center) can comment on how the stress of an impending natural disaster like a hurricane impacts the elderly, including those with memory disorders or other neuropsychiatric disorders. For those with dementia, news of a hurricane or its aftermath can have a particularly disorienting effect and aggravate behavioral problems, she says. Dr. Smith volunteered in Port Charlotte as part of an Area Agency on Aging assessment team following Hurricane Charley in August 2004. Smith can be reached at (813) 974-4355.*


Lisa Brown (Department of Aging and Mental Health, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute) conducts research on the impact of disasters on the mental health of adults and older adults. She is an expert on resilience, assessment, intervention and disaster mental health service use. In 2005, Brown counseled Hurricane Katrina evacuees as a volunteer with the American Red Cross. In 2004, she worked as a volunteer mental health clinician in a special needs shelter. She is an editor of a recently published textbook, Psychology of Terrorism (Oxford, 2007) to which she contributed a chapter, “Older Adults and Terrorism,” which describes the impact of natural and human-made disasters. She can be reached at (813) 974-0098 or by cell phone at (813) 992-5544.


Kathryn Hyer (School of Aging Studies, College of Arts and Sciences) conducted research on impact of evacuations, electrical outages and other service disruptions, and other effects of the 2004 hurricanes on the elderly and their long-term care providers. She participated in a meeting of Gulf Coast State Long Term Care Facilities in their efforts to improve preparedness based on their experience with the 2004 storms. Hyer can be reached at (813) 974-3232, or by cell at (813) 477-0500.

Disaster Preparedness

A certified member of the Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), trained by Tampa Fire Rescue, School of Social Work Professor Robin Ersing can talk about how people prepare for and help each other in the wake of hurricanes.  Currently serving as the faculty advisor to the first student organized American Red Cross Club at USF, she established USF’s first training partnership with the American Red Cross (ARC) to certify social work students and others in the delivery of disaster-related services, including operation of the on-campus emergency evacuation shelter at Pizzo elementary school.   This year ARC named Ersing its “Good Neighbor of the Year,” the highest honor bestowed on a community member, for her efforts through research, teaching and service, dedicated to disaster preparedness in the Tampa Bay area.  With her students, Ersing has studied disaster resilient communities, and has presented their findings throughout the nation.  She has served as a member of a special international disaster preparedness and response working group established by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and is in the process of editing a volume on the role of social networks in surviving disasters.  Ersing can be reached at (813) 974-6572 or

Thomas Mason (College of Public Health), director of the USF Global Center for Disaster Management and Humanitarian Action at the College of Public Health, can comment on the environmental, public health and socioeconomic impacts of natural disasters on populations in the Americas. The center oversees a variety of research on disaster preparedness and mitigation and is a source of current information for disaster planners and relief workers. Mason can be reached at (813) 974-6675 or He is available only for phone or on-site, on-camera interviews.*

*For further assistance in contacting Smith or Mason, please contact Anne DeLotto Baier, Health Sciences Public Affairs at (813) 974-3300.

The University of South Florida is among the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community engaged public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. It is one of Florida's top three research universities. USF was awarded more than $300 million in research contracts and grants last year. The University offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The University has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 45,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

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